Teixeira channels Roy Hobbs

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One Final Tex Message: A jubilant Mark Teixeira rounds the bases celebrating an emotional walkoff grand slam with two outs in the ninth to beat the Red Sox. AP Photo via Getty Images

Picture the setting. It’s the bottom of the ninth. The New York Knights are trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates 2-0. They’re one out away from losing the pennant. The rest is the perfect ending to a fairy tale with a two out rally allowing a injured Roy Hobbs facing his younger self.

A tall lefty with a blazing fastball, Youngberry enters to face the flawed aging rookie superstar. Hobbs nearly takes him deep just missing down the right field line only to see his symbolic bat he made as a kid, Wonderboy break. A emotional moment takes place between him and the bat boy Bobby.

“Pick me out a winner, Bobby,” Hobbs tells him.

Then Bobby unveils his own homemade bat called Savor Special. Made similarly to how a younger Hobbs made his following a storm where a lightning bolt cut a tree in half. The moment where Bobby presents the bat to Hobbs is one of my favorite scenes from The Natural. The look from both. There is a happiness and excitement over a kid’s game even with the stakes so high.

Either Hobbs delivers the knockout blow and wins the pennant for Pop or the sinister Judge buys Pop out and celebrates with crooked gambler Gus and Harriet Bird clone Memo.

Down to his final strike, the plate umpire notices blood coming through Hobbs’ jersey. He asks, “Roy, are you okay?” To which Hobbs replies, “Let’s play some ball.” The Pirates catcher picks up on it and puts down the number 1 sign for Youngberry.

In the novel, Hobbs strikes out and the game ends. But in the movie, that can’t happen. It’s not storybook. A flawed Hobbs, who has the silver bullet removed at the hospital for pregnant woman after Memo put something in his drink, knows he is risking his life. The doctor warns him that it wouldn’t be wise to play. But Hobbs needs to. He knows it’s his final game. A last chance to be a heroic figure and win one for Pop after they lost three in a row without him. The Judge notes that as he tries to pay off Hobbs with another “key person” part of his contingency plan. He leaves an envelope with $20,000.

Of course, Hobbs pays a visit to The Judge and returns the envelope which causes a stir. Gus calls him a loser. As they argue, Memo pulls a gun and fires a shot after Gus says, “I like the action.” Hobbs then replies, “Then let it ride.” Then comes the gun shot. She then cries and says she hates him. That’s how much not playing and having Gus stake them to a lot of money and buying into a company meant to her. This is Pop’s niece. Someone he refers to as “a jinx.”

Hobbs struggles throughout the game to get his timing back striking out badly twice. When his former girlfriend Iris pens a letter with her son at the game having an usher get it to Hobbs in the dugout, it reveals the truth. That it’s his son watching from the stands. An emotional Hobbs looks around at the crowd in the dugout. As that happens, a Knight tries to stretch a single into a double but gets pegged at second to end the seventh.

They have one last chance. Following a Knight just beating a long throw from third by jarring the ball loose, the Pirates’ ace gives up another hit putting runners on the corners. It sets the stage for Hobbs’ final at bat. One last chance to be the hero or goat according to the annoying Max Mercy. Poetically, Hobbs fouls off a pitch through the press box shattering the glass where Mercy is perched. This movie is all about symbolism. The acting is top notch and the characters are excellent. It is my favorite baseball movie and ranks second all-time in sports behind Hoosiers.

Down to the final strike, Hobbs steps back in bloody uniform and all. Youngberry delivers a heater that Hobbs crushes. You can hear the radio announcer saying, “It’s still going…He did it! He did it! Hobbs did it! The Knights have won the pennant!”

The best part is when he came up, a lightning bolt struck. As the ball carries, it hits the lights turning an epic scene into fireworks as a stunned Judge and his cronies watch helplessly. Hobbs touches all the bases and is mobbed by teammates. The scene then darkens and shifts to a father having a catch with his boy on a farm with his wife. Just the way it once was for him with his Dad.

So, what does all this have to do with Mark Teixeira hitting a dramatic walkoff grand slam with two outs in the bottom of the ninth off the beleaguered Boston bullpen to give the Yankees an exciting 5-3 win at Yankee Stadium? Just this. It’s Teixeira’s final season. It’s been a tough year for the once great first base slugger who has been tremendous throughout his career which has included the final eight years spent in the Bronx, including a World Series title in ’09.

There haven’t been many magical moments for Teixeira in his last year. When he decided this would be it at a press conference, injuries were a factor. Still an above average defensive first baseman, he just can’t stay healthy. The thing is he hit over 30 home runs last year before an injury ended his season. So, he didn’t look done. But injuries have a way of changing things for older players. Case in point, a now retired A-Rod.

Not everyone has a happy ending. But on Wednesday night in the Bronx, Teixeira gave Yankee fans something to remember. Most notably, he gave himself one final big moment he will never forget. The Red Sox were ready to celebrate clinching the AL East on the field. Toronto had already lost to Baltimore. But if Boston held the 3-0 lead in the ninth, they would’ve gotten to celebrate some on the field before popping the cork in the locker room, which they still did.

It was bad enough that Boston basically ended the Yankees’ season with that four-game sweep at Fenway Park. A Yankee loss combined with an Oriole win would’ve officially eliminated the Yankees. However, they showed tremendous character rallying off Jekyll & Hyde closer Craig Kimbrel. He didn’t have it giving up a base hit and walking three including a bases loaded RBI walk to Brian McCann that made it 3-1.

That was enough for manager John Farrell, who pulled Kimbrel for Joe Kelly. A flame thrower who can hit 100 on the radar gun and has a good breaking ball. The last time Farrell replaced Kimbrel with Kelly, it worked. It almost did again with Kelly striking out Starlin Castro on three pitches and then getting Didi Gregorius to pop out to third for the infield fly rule. He had one man left to get. Up stood Teixeira.

Watching the final half inning on TV, I was hoping for Teixeira as well as wanting to see the Yankees finally pull one out and not strand runners. They’ve left a village on the base paths all season. The Red Sox were one out away from getting out of it. But then Teixeira took a hard swing and connected for a deep drive to right center. The ball kept carrying and carrying until Jackie Bradley, Jr. ran out of room. It was gone. Teixeira did it! He did it!

You may as well have cued Randy Newman’s theme from The Natural. Something WFAN’s Steve Somers made sure to do. When it comes to production, nobody is as good as The Schmoozer. Always dripping with sarcasm but also using the well produced clips to provide even more entertainment to the listener.

Seeing an emotional Teixeira mobbed by excited teammates and get a Gatorade bath was awesome. You felt good for the guy. He is up to 15 homers with dingers in consecutive games. Something that hasn’t been a frequent occurrence. He believed it was his last home run. If it was, what a way to go out.

Here’s hoping he’s got at least one more Tex Message against the Orioles this final weekend. Teixeira channeling Roy Hobbs. That’s what makes baseball great.

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Hard Hits Flashback: We’re Famous

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When “Peyton Manning” called into our show on Hard Hits Network, as good hosts we played along and look what it got us. A prank for the ages on Howard Stern.

Back in the winter of this year following the Broncos winning the Super Bowl by dominating the Panthers to send NFL legend Peyton Manning riding off into the sunset, I Derek “Flex” Felix hosted a show on Hard Hits Network discussing the big game with co-host John “JPG” Giagnorio.

It was during that episode that a relentless caller kept calling in asĀ 
“Peyton Manning.” Naturally, I being the amused host played along with Giagnorio by interviewing Peyton. And what an interview it was. The stuff of college pranks gone bad. Little did we know it actually was some personality from the Howard Stern Show.

I only found out thanks to New Jersey buddy Tim Daddio, who linked up the TMZ story from hell. Peyton Pranks Idiot Sports Hosts. Or whatever they called it. All this time later, the idea that we actually were played by the actual Howard Stern for a mock interview with classic off color remarks that can’t be repeated in this blog is still hard to fathom.

So, what was our response? An entertaining one nonetheless. Who would’ve ever predicted that they would come to a “third rate” podcast on BlogTalkRadio for RATINGS?!?!?!?!?! Here it is in entirety with shits and giggles. šŸ˜‰

Hard Hits: Derek and John’s classic response to the Peyton Manning Prank on Howard Stern

RIP Jose Fernandez (1992-2016)

An awful tragedy struck baseball this morning. As I flipped on ESPN for SportsCenter, they confirmed the tragic death of Marlins ace Jose Fernandez. He was only 24.

It was reported that Fernandez was in a boat accident along the Miami Beach coast. Two other people died in the tragedy. Seeing the reporters on ESPN discuss it including the renown Hannah Storm made me feel empty. It’s still hard to believe a few hours later as they play baseball that a talented and special pitcher is gone at such a young age. The magnitude is a huge blow to baseball.

Sports tragedies have a way of bringing everyone together. Baseball is close knit. The decision was made by the Braves and Marlins to cancel today’s game. One that was easy to conclude. How could they play? Our thoughts and prayers go out to Fernandez’ family. He was a great story. A Cuban defector who saved his Mom’s life after she went overboard, he became an 11th overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.

At 20, Fernandez was in the majors throwing heat. He went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA while fanning 187 in 172 and two thirds innings, only allowing 111 hits. He captured NL Rookie of The Year and finished third in the NL Cy Young. The only young flamethrower similar was Dwight “Doc” Gooden, who took the league by storm his first two years winning the Cy Young in his second year with a 24-4 record.

Unfortunately, arm problems limited Fernandez the next two years with Tommy John surgery costing him most of 2014 and 2015. He still returned last year and was 6-1 with a 2.92 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 64-plus innings. He only made a combined 19 starts spanning ’14-15.

This season, Fernandez showed flashes of greatness that made him a dominant starter. He recently won his 16th game against the Nationals going eight shutout innings and fanning 12 on Sept. 20. Fatefully, it would be his final start. Expected to pitch Sunday, he was pushed back to tomorrow to face the Mets.

Then came the sad news this morning that he was gone. A big right-handed pitcher who had every tool to become the next great starter. We’re talking Cy Youngs and possibly 300 strikeouts in a season as well as 20 wins. Instead, we’re left wondering why he was taken so soon.

Fernandez was 16-8 with a 2.86 ERA with 55 walks and 253 K’s in 182.1 innings while permitting 149 hits. He was amazing. In only four years, he was 38-17 for his career with a 2.58 ERA. In 471 innings, he gave up 357 hits with 140 walks and 589 strikeouts.

It’s hard to put into perspective just how special he was. I loved watching him pitch. I always believed he’d become the best pitcher in baseball, eventually supplanting Clayton Kershaw. When you learn about how good a person and teammate he was, it makes it even sadder.

I’m reminded of the Spring Training boating accident that Bobby Ojeda was involved in with two other Indians. He survived while teammates Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed.

There’s rarely a happy ending when such tragedies strike. This is the worst case scenario. I am sure baseball and the Marlins will donate and raise money for Jose Fernandez’ family. But it doesn’t take the pain away. They lost their baby.

RIP Jose Fernandez (1992-2016) šŸ˜¦

Bautista bomb sends Yankees to third straight shutout loss

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Despite getting shutout three straight and falling out of the wildcard race, the Yankees future is bright due to future stars such as catching sensation Gary Sanchez. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Baseball Tonight on Twitter.

As John Sterling just said on the radio following the latest Yankee loss, “If you don’t score, you can’t win.”

Astonishingly, a great run at the playoffs has been replaced by not being able to score a run. Jose Bautista’s three-run bomb off losing pitcher Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning sent the punch less Yankees to a depressing 3-0 defeat. Their third straight shutout loss. It’s the first time since 1975 they have been shutout in three consecutive games.

That’s 27 innings without scoring a run. It’s definitely a sad way to go out. The four-game sweep at Boston was bad enough. I am not gonna bother reiterating my frustration. Despite it all, these new look Baby Bombers give us hope for the future. Gary Sanchez is chasing American League Rookie of The Year with a remarkable 19 home runs in his first 43 games. A modern day record. Even with being shutout, Sanchez remains at .330 with 19 blasts and 38 RBI’s.

The fact Sanchez could even win AL ROY despite coming up in August is remarkable. The top prospect has done more than anyone could’ve possibly envisioned. Hitting 19 homers in less than two months is insane. Even in the final two losses at Boston, Sanchez blasted two dingers to go on another streak. He ripped three more homers in consecutive wins over the Rays before the offense went ice cold. In fact, he drove in 13 over a five-game span where the Yanks lost three of five.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox’ offense is the best in baseball. When the off-season hits, Yankee pitchers will be seeing Hanley Ramirez in their nightmares. The sizzling first base slugger beat the Yanks with a three-run blast to dead center off a flat Dellin Betances which set the tone last Thursday. One of Joe Girardi’s screw ups. He’s a very good manager but the over managing can drive fans nuts. Like leaving C.C. Sabathia in for another inning after he served up a game-tying three-run bomb to Ramirez. He was over 100 pitches and facing the Red Sox. It turned into a disaster.

Maybe if they had split the big series, we’d be singing a different tune. They could have. But that doesn’t cut it. They still gave themselves a chance after taking the first two from Tampa. But then were shutout in the series finale. What’s followed is 18 more innings of frustration. No one has been able to drive in a single run. And so, they have the dubious distinction of not scoring a run in three straight games.

In the process, they wasted a great effort from Sabathia, who went seven scoreless reducing his ERA to 4.02. The veteran southpaw has given a good account of himself all year proving he still can be a serviceable back of the end starter who gives the Yanks innings. He’s made 29 starts and is up to 172-plus innings. With one start left, he could reach 180.

Sabathia has a vesting $25 million option for 2017 which hinges on not finishing the year on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or spend 45 days or make six relief appearances due to a left shoulder injury. There also is a $5 million buyout. But it looks like the salary is guaranteed with Sabathia staying healthy. If so, he has earned it. That would mean one more year for the gritty lefty who has bounced back from how last season ended with him checking into rehab for alcoholism. If he can be bought out, I would still like to see him return.

It’s hard to get upset over the Yankees falling short. That they even made a run and played meaningful games this late in the season despite selling and reloading the farm system shows how well they played. They never gave up. A credit to Girardi and the coaching staff. For all of my issues with his by the book stuff, he’s done an admirable job. If he was ever let go, plenty of teams would be after Girardi.

As the season winds down with the Yanks now 79-75 and four behind the Orioles and Tigers, playoff extinction looms. But in a year where Alex Rodriguez went out with one final memorable night and Carlos Beltran proved he still has it, Brian Cashman finally was allowed to make game changing deals that could have a long term impact on the club’s future.

He turned Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller into Adam Warren, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, Rashad Crawford, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen. Torres and Frazier are top prospects while Sheffield could have a place in the Yankee rotation. Warren returned to form after struggling with the Cubs. He’s been part of a solid 1-2 punch with Clippard getting the ball to Betances. Funny enough, he was sent to Chicago over the winter for Starlin Castro. Who won that one. šŸ˜‰

Cashman also got three minor leaguers (Nick Green, Erik Swanson and Dillon Tate) for Beltran after sending him to Texas. Here’s hoping he has an impact and maybe even reaches the World Series.

As far as what’s transpired, I can’t help but feel proud. Expectations weren’t high. Especially when they sold at the deadline. But seeing some of these kids and the continued improvement of Didi Gregorius has shed a new light. The future is bright.

AL MVP: The case for David Ortiz

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David Ortiz smashes another long home run at Camden Yards. At 40 in his final season, he’s in the hunt for AL MVP. But the Red Sox designated hitter remains a long shot due to stronger candidates who play positions. AP Photo via Getty Images by Deadspin on Twitter.

Normally, when you play in your final year, you have nothing left. That clearly isn’t the case with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The popular 40-year old designated hitter is having a final season for the ages. In slugging his team-leading 37th home run during Friday night’s 2-1 win over the Rays, he passed Shoeless Joe Jackson for the most runs batted in in a final year.

Ortiz now is tied with Blue Jays’ slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the American League lead with 124 RBI’s. His 37 dingers rank eighth. The 47 doubles leads the junior circuit. Big Papi is hitting .319 which ranks him third in the AL trailing teammate and MVP candidate Mookie Betts by two points. Betts is having quite a year. Having started at lead off and now hitting third in the best lineup in baseball, the star right fielder is .321 with 31 homers, 108 RBI’s and 25 stolen bases. His 117 runs are tied with Mike Trout for second trailing 2015 MVP Josh Donaldson by one. Betts also leads the AL in hits with 207- one better than AL batting leader Jose Altuve, who’s hitting .338.

The common denominator with each player is they all are legit MVP candidates. Most experts believe it’s between Betts, Altuve and Trout. All three are strong position players who have the edge in WAR (Wins Above Replacement). Trout leads all contenders with a 10.2 followed by Betts (9.5) and Altuve (7.6). That would explain why DH’s don’t win MVP. Voters don’t just put stock in offensive statistics. But defense. Honestly, all three candidates are superb defensive players. It’s possible that each could win Gold Gloves. Only Altuve has won one earning his first last year. Astonishingly, Trout has never won one despite terrific defense. Partially due to the outfield being crowded. Though it’s hard to explain how Yoenis Cespedes won one for his time in the AL with the Tigers before carrying the Mets to a pennant.

In 2015, Trout’s teammate Kole Calhoun won a Gold Glove along with the Rays’ Kevin Kiermaier. A great defensive center fielder who gets high grades. Other contenders this year are Jackie Bradley, Jr., Kevin Pillar and Betts, who leads in defensive WAR with a 2.9- just ahead of Kiermaier and Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2.7).

The question with the value put on defense is how much of an impact does it have on baseball writers who vote? If you’re nerdy, you can probably find runs saved. Maybe that’s why Manny Ramirez never won despite being a dominant offensive player for both the Indians and Red Sox in his prime. But Albert Pujols was never what I’d call a great defensive first baseman. It was mostly his offense that carried him to three MVP’s with St. Louis. He did win a couple of Gold Gloves. So, his defense was solid. But let’s be blunt. His statistics were what separated him.

Realistically, Ortiz remains a long shot to win MVP. He did finish runner-up to Alex Rodriguez during a memorable ’05 when they went at bat for at bat creaming the ball. Rodriguez took home the award due to his defense at the hot corner. Big Papi had superior situational stats but fell short. Between ’03-07, he had five top five finishes. Since then, he hasn’t come close ranking a distant 10th in 2013.

It’s hard to ignore his AL-leading slugging (.634) and OPS (1.040). Trout ranks second at .992. However, Trout continues to be at the top of the leader board in key categories such as on-base percentage (.437), Offensive WAR (9.5), walks (108), adjusted OPS+ (173), runs created (141), times on base (283), offensive win percentage (.799) and situation wins added (6.3).

What does it all mean? Trout plays for a bad team that’s 18 games under .500 and 23 behind AL West repeat winner Texas. Does playing on such a bad team hurt Trout’s candidacy? I would say so. Meanwhile, Betts is on a first place team running away with the AL East. Boston boasts the most lethal lineup top to bottom with five players having at least 20 home runs or more along with four hitting over .300. Three have driven in over 100 including Hanley Ramirez, who has been on a tear the last two months. His four home runs highlighted a four-game sweep of the Yankees, basically ending their wildcard chances.

Altuve plays on the fading Astros. A favorite to reach the World Series, bad pitching has put them on the brink of missing the playoffs. Consecutive losses to the Angels have them two out of the second wildcard. Baltimore and Detroit are in a flatfooted tie. Seattle has been streaking and are a game and a half back. The Astros must finish strong to make it. None of this falls on Altuve. The excellent second baseman leads the AL in hitting with career highs in homers (24) and RBI’s (94). If he can get to 100 RBI’s, that should solidify his candidacy. He also has 27 steals, a .935 OPS and 206 hits. A terrific player, the 5-6, 165 pound Altuve is one of the game’s most complete players. He has one batting title and paced the AL in hits the last two seasons.

The interesting aspect about this year’s race is you have other players who have had monster years. Particularly the O’s Mark Trumbo, who smashed a walk off home run in extras on Friday for his major league-leading 44th. Twins’ second baseman Brian Dozier set the record by clubbing his 42nd home run. After a bad first half that saw him hit only .246 with 14 dingers and 43 RBI’s, his second half has been arguably the best. Despite playing on the worst team in baseball, Dozier has hit .312 with a remarkable 28 homers and 56 RBI’s in 66 games. That’s brought his overall totals up to .277-42-99 with 100 runs scored. The 42 jacks are a career high along with the 99 base knocks.

You also have Encarnacion in Toronto tied with Dozier for second in the AL with 42 long balls and tied with Ortiz for the league lead in RBI’s with 124. Rangers’ ageless third baseman Adrian Beltre has flown under the radar. A future Hall of Famer, he’s had a great year. At 37, his 100 RBI’s pace Texas and 31 homers are tied with teammate Rougned Odor for the team lead. Beltre has also hit .298. While he’s not in the same category as Betts, Altuve and Trout, it’s easy to ignore what the dependable veteran has done in helping lead the Rangers to a second straight division title. He’s always been consistent and deserves recognition.

If the Tigers make it, Miguel Cabrera will have a say. The former AL MVP who won the triple crown in 2013 to edge a then rookie Trout. The first base slugger has quietly had a strong second half helping Detroit back into contention. They did lose in gut wrenching fashion today blowing a two-run lead to the Royals with Eric Hosmer crushing a three-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez. Cabrera is hitting .307 with 34 dingers and 94 RBI’s. The 33-year old remains one of the game’s most dangerous hitters pitchers don’t want to face. With a career .320 average, 442 home runs, 1,539 RBI’s and 2,504 hits, he’s a lock for Cooperstown. Too bad the Marlins didn’t keep him. How long before they unload Giancarlo Stanton or lose ace Jose Fernandez?

The Indians will win the AL Central. They are up to 90-63 and eight clear in the loss column to the Tigers. Pitching, defense and hitting have Cleveland ready to be back in October. While Mike Napoli leads them with 34 homers and 100 RBI’s, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have been the most consistent. In his second season, the 2015 Rookie of The Year Lindor is hitting .303 with 14 homers, 72 RBI’s and 19 stolen bases. He paces them in hits (179) and runs (96). A complete player who plays a superb shortstop, the only reason he might not win the Gold Glove is due to the outstanding Simmons with the Angels.

Ramirez has developed into one of their most trusted players. A versatile player who can play third as well as the outfield if needed, the 24-year old has come from nowhere to lead the Indians with a .315 average and 44 doubles. He has 11 homers and 75 RBI’s along with 22 steals, 170 hits and an .836 OPS. Considering that the Indians have been without Michael Brantley, Ramirez has more than made up for his loss. Brantley was developing into one of the most complete players in the AL. How much better could Cleveland be if he were healthy?

Manny Machado is the forgotten man. The Orioles’ all world third baseman is having another great season. Even though he’s tailed off down the stretch, the 24-year old who should win the Gold Glove again for his tremendous range and defense has already set new highs in home runs (36) and RBI’s (93). Right near .300 with 103 runs scored and 182 hits, Machado remains an emerging star who could one day win MVP. Had he not faded along with Baltimore, who are clinging onto that second wildcard, he would be right in the conversation.

Whoever wins AL MVP will have really earned it. Between Trout’s strong finish and Betts’ sensational season- Altuve’s best overall year- and Ortiz’ amazing final year- there are plenty of worthy choices.

Big Papi will likely fall short due to being a DH. But his final year is one for the record books. You do wonder if there’ll be some emotion when the votes come in. Ortiz could be a sentimental choice. It might be closer than you think.

Happy Tupac Day

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Twenty years today, Tupac Shakur died of gun shot wounds at University Medical Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas. Only 25, the rapper and actor was fatally shot in a drive-by shooting on September 7, 1996. He lasted six days before succumbing on Sept. 13, 1996.

One of the most gifted rappers, he accomplished so much at a young age. From his upbringing in East Harlem under motherĀ Afeni Shakur who was a Black Panther along with his father Billy Garland, Tupac’s interest in the performance arts resulted in him trying his hand at acting during the second part of his high school career. The family relocated to Baltimore where Shakur attended the Baltimore School For The Arts. There, he studied acting, poetry and jazz.

As a teenager, Tupac began showing off his mic skills by rapping. His undeniable talent helped him win rap contests. Soon, a 17-year old Shakur relocated to California with his family attending another high school in which he participated in several productions. Eventually, he would catch on as a roadie with Digital Underground, fronted by the one and only Humpty Dumpty.

It was there where he began to display his sick flow, performing a verse on “Same Song” which was prominently featured in the movie Nothing But Trouble, featuring Dan Akroyd, John Candy,Ā Chevy Chase and Demi Moore. He also was part of the cool music video that debuted on MTV which showed clips of the funny 1991 comedy which honestly, is one of the most overlooked for its time.

Following that cameo, it was time for 2Pac to move on. He released his debut album 2Pacalypse Now in mid-November, 1991. The best song in my opinion is Brenda’s Got A Baby which describes a 12-year old girl who becomes pregnant and has a baby even though her family didn’t know. Unable to support it, she throws the baby in the trash. It’s actually based off a true story where a 12-year old got pregnant from her cousin. Disturbing and sad.

The album also prominently features “Trapped.” A song about police brutality and harassment based on personal experience. Regrettably, this still is happening 20 years later. It’s why you have the Black Lives Matter movement with African-Americans protesting the mistreatment and racial profiling by cops. Unfortunately, there have been several tragedies such as Eric Garner which happened out in Stapleton in Staten Island. I know exactly the location. He was choked to death by an officer for selling loose cigarettes on the street. Someone videoed the footage which was incriminating. Remarkably, the officer Daniel Pantaleo who used an illegal stranglehold which killed Garner wasn’t indicted by Ā grand jury at Richmond County court house. The city reached a $5.9 million settlement with Garner’s family last year.

What I admire most about 2Pac is how real he is. Unless you believe the conspiracy theories that say he’s alive (I wish), his legend grows. He always stayed true to his roots and rapped about real issues. Whether it be the memorable “Changes” on what’s wrong with society which still applies today or “Tradin’ War Stories” about thug life on the streets or “Dear Mama” which basically is a dedication to recently passed Mom Afeni, who died on May 3 at 69, Shakur’s stories are the sad truth on life for a majority of urban black males in the ghetto.

Never a stranger to controversy, Tupac was assaulted by Oakland police for jay walking. He was awarded a $43,000 settlement after suing the Oakland police department for $10 million. He served 15 days in jail for assaulting the director of Menace II Society. Something he bragged about. His worst alleged crime was first degree sexual abuse of a woman who he had relations with a couple of days earlier in 1993. She accused him and his entourage of raping her in a hotel room. He denied the charges but wound up serving nine months of a one and a half to four and a half year sentence.

Suge Knight posted a $1.4 million bond, bailing Shakur out pending an appeal. He agreed to release three albums on Knight’s rap label Death Row Records. He still had to serve another 120 days due to violating terms of his bail. Of course, 2Pac managed to release a successful double album All Eyez On Me. It featured big hit “California Love” which featured Dr. Dre. There are two different versions. Each of which are unique. Other popular songs include “How Do U Want It,” “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” “All Eyez On Me,” and “Picture Me Rollin'” Who could forget the memorable video of “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” featuring 2Pac and Snoop Dogg mocking a court room.

Personal favorites are “Life Goes On” and “Skandalouz.” I really love Life Goes On because the lyrics are so real. They hit home personally because I lost a friend six years ago. A sunshine star.

The amazing aspect about 2Pac is he produced so many great tracks in such a short amount of time. I consider him the Jimi Hendrix of rap. In a five-year period, he killed it. From fun classics such as “Old School” about when rap and hip hop started out to “I Get Around,” about one night stands with sexy women to “Pain” from hit film Above The Rim which he starred in, the man did it all. His debut in the memorable 1992 movie Juice featuring a young Omar Epps remains epic. At the time in high school, we had a hot box. I must’ve come home and watched it 100 times. Ditto Oliver Stone controversial hit JFK.

Nobody could use poetry and emotion to tell a story like 2Pac. He also was gonna hit it big as an actor. Also featured opposite Janet Jackson in Poetic Justice and teaming up with Tim Roth in the truthful film Gridlock’d about how hard it is for addicts to get proper help to detox due to the ridiculous nature of healthcare, Shakur could convincingly play characters and make you relate to them. Though I’ll always love the crazy Bishop in Juice with that final scene with GQ played by Epps memorable. Who could forget the school scene where he warns GQ that he’s the one ya ‘ll need to be worried about. Cause he is crazy. And he don’t give a bleep!

He also starred with Roth in Bullet. A screwed up movie about drugs and gang wars which result in both characters getting murdered. Gang Related had him and Jim Belushi in the role of crooked cops covering up a crime they committed.

No matter what he did or said which usually was controversial or memorable, he lived a complete life. It makes me wonder how he did all that by age 25. The end came after going to see close friend Mike Tyson fight in Vegas. Of course, he rode back with the dangerous Knight and was gunned down in the passenger seat. Irony of ironies because the same happened to former friend and East coast rival Biggie Smalls a year later in California during a tour. The West coast vs East coast rivalry came about after 2Pac was shot while trying to visit BIG in his studio. He blamed producer Puff Daddy for the hit. It became an ugly rivalry with Pac going after Biggie by claiming he bleeped his bitch. A reference to wife Faith Evans. The mother of his two kids.

There are too many countless tracks to list. Other memorable ones include “Me Against The World,” “To Live & Die In LA,” “Pour Out A Little Liquor,” “Do For Love,” “How Long Will They Mourn Me,” “Keep Your Head Up,” “Better Dayz,” and “Until The End of Time.”

Honestly, find another rapper who did as much as Tupac Shakur in such a brief span. You won’t. You know what I always say. Legends Never Die.

RIP 2PAC June 16, 1971-September 13, 1996

September 13, 1996-September 13, 2016

20 Year Anniversary

Stan the Man: Wawrinka bests Djokovic to win U.S. Open

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Stan the Man: New U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka celebrates during his big four set win over world number one Novak Djokovic in what was a fantastic and grueling men’s final. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy Tennis.comĀ on Twitter.

Just call him Stan the Man. The hard working third seeded 31-year old Swiss who’s played in the shadow of Roger FedererĀ won his first ever U.S. Open. In a captivating match that had plenty of mental and physical battles, Stan Wawrinka came back to defeat top ranked Novak Djokovic in four sets, 6-7 (1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 at a boisterous Ashe Stadium.

In winning his third major, Wawrinka has now captured the Australian, French and U.S. Open. Two have come after turning 30 including Roland Garros in ’15 and Flushing Meadows on Sunday. Aside from going three-for-three in his first three major finals, he’s won an astonishing 11 consecutive finals on the ATP Tour. A streak he continued by getting the better of the game’s best player.

Despite an odd road to another final in Queens that included a walkover, two retirements and a bizarre four set semifinal win over the perplexing Gael Monfils, Djokovic had a chance to win three of four slams a second straight year, which would’ve further cemented his place as one of the game’s all-time best. He still owns 12 slams including this year’s Australian and French- his first which completed a career grand slam. It wasn’t meant to be for the weary world number one ranked Serbian who had two treatments for blisters in the fourth set. He clearly was hobbled but showed plenty of heart forcing Wawrinka to earn it.

“This is amazing,” an emotional Wawrinka told the crowd during the on court presentation on a special day which commemorated the 15-year Anniversary of September 11, 2001. “I came here without expecting to win it. When I stepped on the court, I tried to win every match. I did everything today against Novak. The crowd and atmosphere was something I’ve never had before. It’s an amazing night.”

On this night, it was Wawrinka who was the better player. As a classy Djokovic said during his runner-up interview, he was the ‘more courageous player.’ Indeed, Wawrinka was better on the big points, saving an incredible 14 of 17 break points against the game’s best returner. He also was more opportunistic, converting on six of ten break chances.

The difference was actually his defense. Normally a huge edge to the gritty Djokovic, it went to Wawrinka, who found ways to stay in points when he was pinned behind the baseline. He also went bigger crushing 46 winners compared to Djokovic’s 30. Both committed their share of unforced errors with Wawrinka having 51 while Djokovic made 46. A lot of the mistakes were due to some grueling rallies where each player never gave up on points or the other’s serve. It had that kind of feel. No wonder the four set match took three hours and 54 minutes to complete. Imagine if there was a fifth set. What would they have had left?

A much sharper Djokovic came out firing on all cylinders by quickly breaking a flat Wawrinka in the second game. He then held for a 3-0 lead. Wawrinka was misfiring wildly from the baseline. His normally unflappable and clutch one-handed backhand- the best in the sport- was missing. It was that clutch shot he made on a match point in a third round win over Daniel Evans that kept him alive long enough to win a tiebreak and pull out a five set win. He then needed four sets in the next two rounds including an emotional quarterfinal victory over former ’09 Open champ Juan Martin Del Potro in a Davis Cup atmosphere. He also fought back from a set down to overpower Kei Nishikori in the semis.

To his credit, Wawrinka regained his composure. Finding the form that has always made him a “big match player” according to Djokovic, he worked his way back in the first set eventually breaking back. Even with momentum entering the tiebreak, he dropped the breaker 7-1. There were two incredible points back-to-back. The first, Wawrinka won with both players scrambling from baseline to net with him able to knock off a volley into an open court. The next point saw Djokovic at his defensive best, going on the full run to hit a perfect backhand up the line for a huge winner. He would then cruise to take a one set lead.

Despite falling behind, Wawrinka started the second set by going up an early break on Djokovic, jumping out to a 4-1 lead. His bigger ground game seemed to be getting to Djokovic. But the resilient two-time Open winner valiantly fought back with a break of his own, eventually squaring the set at 4-all. Knowing he needed to hold, Wawrinka gamely held for 5-4. In the 10th game, he was able to break Djokovic to square the match.

The third set was wild and unpredictable. There were three breaks of serve, speaking to just how competitive each service game was. It was again Wawrinka early in the set who jumped in front due to unconscious winners from both sides. Whether it be his lethal one-handed backhand either cross court or down the line or his forehand also down the line, he was the more brave player. Something Djokovic referenced afterwards.

“I lost my nerves in the important moments. He kept his cool. I think that’s what decided the match. I just didn’t capitalize at all on my opportunities. I had plenty of them. It was a terrible conversion of the break points. Just terrible from my side,” the always honest world number one assessed.

“In matches like these, if you don’t use the opportunities, the other guy comes and takes it. And that’s what he did. That’s why I said he was more courageous, because he stepped in and played aggressive where I was waiting for things to happen.”

Despite Wawrinka outslugging him 18-8 in winners during a long third set that needed over an hour, a determined Djokovic began pushing Wawrinka wide. The change in strategy helped him claw back in the set with a break of serve. It also put his opponent more on the defensive, drawing 19 unforced errors. After fighting off two break points in a momentum shifting service game late in the third set, Wawrinka seized the moment in the 12th game. With Djokovic trailing 5-6 and trying to force a tiebreak, it was a persistent Wawrinka who took the game to deuce. He played two strong points by changing the pace. Instead of hitting full out, he threw change ups at Djokovic which drew errors to take the set. As is his trademark, he pointed to the temple after going up a set.
When he went up an early break and jumped out to 3-0 in the fourth, it looked like the end. It was in Djokovic’s first service game that during an extended point, he pulled up and felt a twinge. Clearly hurting, he struggled and dropped serve. Despite trailing 0-3, he didn’t call for the trainer for a medical timeout. With it apparent that he was cramping, ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe noted that a player cannot use a timeout for cramps. Following a brave hold for 1-3, it was then that a limping Djokovic approached the chair umpire and asked for a timeout to treat another injury.
During the stoppage which came with Wawrinka about to serve, he protested. The rules say an injured player should wait until their serve for a medical timeout. So, he was right. Something both McEnroe and Brad Gilbert reemphasized as did John McEnroe. The injury turned out to be legit. Djokovic was suffering from blisters, which from the ESPN camera were quite ugly. They didn’t need to give a close up on the second treatment with it visibly showing a bloody toe. Curt Schilling would’ve been proud.
When play resumed, it was Djokovic who applied the pressure. He earned two more break chances to get back on serve. But a feisty Wawrinka fought both off and eventually held in a game that took about seven minutes to lead 4-1. Despite not showing much wear and tear despite being on the court double of Djokovic for the tournament, he later admitted the obvious.

“Today I was trying to stay with him,” Wawrinka told reporters in a press conference. “I was trying to be tough with myself, trying not to show anything, not to show any pain, not to show any cramps, not to show anything. I was suffering on the court, but I’m happy and proud with what I have achieved today.”

His persistence paid off. He really earned it. After a comfortable hold for 5-2, Wawrinka was forced to serve it out by a courageous Djokovic, who held for 3-5. Consecutive tight points allowed the packed stadium to believe Djokovic had a chance of forcing a fifth set. But after trailing Love-30, it was Wawrinka who won the final four points to win his third slam.

At the net, the two embraced. Djokovic, who apologized to Wawrinka during his first medical treatment, had some kind words for Stan. When asked about it by ESPN on court presenter Tom Rinaldi, he sarcastically didn’t reveal it to chuckles. The respect and warmth the two displayed was great. Wawrinka paid homage to Djokovic calling him a “great champion,” while also receiving his winner’s check of $3.5 million and the trophy.

Wawrinka made sure to thank his coach Magnus Norman, parentsĀ and girlfriend Donna Vekic. The pretty 20-year old WTA player smiled and hugged her man when he climbed up to celebrate the big win in his players’ box.

Despite seeing a wounded Djokovic at less than peak form, he showed tremendous heart. That’s what makes him so tough to beat. He still made it a thriller which almost went four hours.

In the end, Wawrinka was the better and more deserving player. One who joined legends Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi as players who have won multiple slams after turning 30. Agassi won five of his eight after 30 including three Australians.

It’s good for tennis to see Wawrinka reemerge after a tough year at the slams. He reached the semis at the French but was ousted before the quarters at the Australian and Wimbledon. Next year, he’ll turn 32 on March 28. He’s still getting better. A scary aspect for the rest of the field. He’s a Wimbledon shy of a career grand slam. Figure him to fare better than the second round when a returning Del Potro got him in four sets.

In what was a great tournament, you had a top four player win. Our pick Andy Murray disappointed by losing in five sets to the pesky Nishikori, who rallied from two sets to one down. The 2014 runner-up put everyone on notice that he’s still a factor. As for 14-time slam champion Rafael Nadal, it’s hard to say if he can win another one. Health will be the key. Don’t forget Roger Federer, who will return next season fresh after realizing his knee wasn’t fully recovered. Milos Raonic was a finalist at Wimbledon.

The men’s field remains as competitive as ever. With the talented Monfils, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga having never won a major and up and coming 22-year old FrenchmanĀ Lucas Pouille looking like a threat, it should only become tougher.

The game is in great shape for the present and future.